Rabbits chew cud?

Leviticus 11:5,6—”Rabbits & hyraxes (rock badgers) don’t chew the cud.”

This is simply a translation-based misunderstanding. The Hebrew expression גּרה עלה (‛âlâh gerah) was a term for the leisurely re-chewing practiced by cows, sheep, rabbits and rock badgers. Rabbits and hyraxes do in fact practice this leisurely re-chewing of previously chewed food, but instead of bringing it up from the stomach they pass droppings which they re-eat and chew in order to get at the remaining partially digested food. This process is called refection . Cows, goats and sheep, however, bring up food directly from their stomachs into their mouths and re-chew it more thoroughly in a similar leisurely fashion. This process is called rumination .

The Hebrew term ‛âlâh gerah includes both refection and rumination . It was not until the modern period that these two slightly different processes were understood. We cannot read our modern technical terms into what was never a technical term, just as we cannot condemn the Qur’ān or Bible for using “unscientific” terms like sun rise or sun set . These food classifications were simply a handy means to remember dietary restrictions using colloquial language.

We find in the Qur’ān an even more problematic description of animals: “We have created every animal that lives on earth, and every bird that flies in the air, to live in communities like you” (An-Am 6:38). Yet there are many species when do not live in communities like humans—the female black widow spider, for instance, which eats its mate after mating. This does not disprove the Qur’ān , but merely illustrates how we sometimes cannot take a passage too literally.

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